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Introduction to Alternative Credit Programs at CWE—Autobiography & Life Experience Programs (ABLE)

Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education

Introduction to Alternative Credit Programs at CWE—Autobiography & Life Experience Programs (ABLE)


Non-traditional students often come to college with considerable professional experience and skills that were gained outside of the classroom. Accordingly, many non-traditional students are excellent candidates for alternative credit programs that enable them to earn up to 20 college- level credits, tuition free. (Note: --- credits are the maximum awardable for both programs, combined: Autobiography and Life Experience.)

CWE recognizes the skills our students have gained through their prior experiences, and so offers two alternative credit earning programs: the Life Experience Program (LEP) and the Autobiography Program. These programs have been an integral part of the Division of Interdisciplinary Studies at the Center for Worker Education since its launch September 1981. The impetus behind their creation was to provide an accelerated path for working adults to earn college credit by capitalizing on their life experience. Many of our early students, like those today, saw our program as an alternative way to earn a large number of tuition-free credits to complete their bachelor’s degree by relying on past learning experiences. Earning credits through this alternative pathway can help students earn their degrees faster (earning up to 20 credits) and allow them to enjoy significant savings on college costs.  Depending on previous experience and current interests, students can pursue either, or both, programs.

Given the nature of these programs and the number of credits that can be potentially earned and applied to the BA degree, it is important that students express their interest in these pathways as early as possible in their time at CWE. Delaying participation in either program in the ABLE pathway until the senior year can result in graduation delays. Expressing interest early allows students time to assess their readiness for alternative program work and determine the number of credits that these programs potentially could fulfill. There are no prerequisites prior to starting an ABLE program; however, as both programs are writing intensive, it is a good idea to have completed Writing for Interdisciplinary Studies I and II before beginning either of these programs.

Please review the descriptions of both programs. If you are interested in learning more about our alternative credit programs, please complete the intake forms and meet with your advisor or attend an information session. You can also email members of the ABLE committee at for more information.

Life Experience Program (earn up to 12 credits)

Life Experience programs are available at most accredited traditional and online colleges. In this program, students identify courses at City College that are likely to be equivalent to professional/work experience they have acquired in the past. For example, a student who has run a home day care as a profession may qualify for credit for a child development course; likewise, a student with many years in the business world may find that s/he has already met most of course learning outcomes for a business management class currently offered at City College.

Once an appropriate course is identified, students enroll in a noncredit-bearing online workshop that guides them in developing a portfolio that showcases their learning. Once the portfolio is complete, it is submitted to outside evaluators who determine whether the student has mastered the content that was covered in the course. If the portfolio is approved, the student earns four (4) credits (per portfolio/course submitted). Under this program, students may submit (3) portfolios for a total of 12 credits—a semester of college—tuition-free!

In order to earn credits successfully in the Life Experience Program students must:

  1. Have previous life experience and/or learning that is equivalent to college-level course work
  2. Identify appropriate courses for the petition(s) that are aligned with the student’s experience/learning background
  3. Discuss the program with his/her advisor by completing the attached intake form before submitting it to the ABLE committee and obtaining permission to enroll in the BB course
  4. Enroll in the self –directed Blackboard LEP workshop for free.
  5. Submit the completed portfolio through the Blackboard course site for approval prior to its being assigned to an evaluator

If the portfolio is deemed to be successful by the evaluator, the student will be awarded the appropriate number of credits (4 credits per portfolio/course petitioned). The credits will be notated on the student’s transcript as “Life Experience Credits” and will be counted toward the student’s graduation requirement.

Students are often curious about the typical LEP portfolio requirements.  As the portfolio is an individual project, the scope and content will vary significantly for each student. However, most portfolios are 30-45 pages in total and include the 1) syllabus for the course for which the student is petitioning credit 2) a resume 3) an essay detailing the student’s prior professional experience 4) a detailed table

including the learning outcomes for the course being petitioned for credit as well as a description of the ways in which the student met those learning outcomes through his /her prior experience and 5) documentation of the student’s experience and learning. Documentation can take many forms but may include any of the following:

  • Awards
  • Statements from employers, supervisors, teachers, trainers, and clients
  • Diploma/topic list from a certificate program
  • Job and/or work description
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Promotion evaluations
  • Samples of work
  • Explanation of tasks performed
  • Performance standards for acquiring license
  • Membership requirements for professional/trade organizations
  • Military records
  • Newspaper and magazine clippings
  • Video and audiotapes

It is important to remember that participating students will have feedback from the Blackboard workshop when developing the LEP portfolio. Credit for the portfolio is dependent upon the quality of its contents and the evaluators’ assessments—accordingly, completion of the workshop or of a portfolio is not a guarantee of credits.


Autobiography Program (up to 8 credits)

The Autobiography Program enables students to tell their life story and earn college credits.  Students can earn up to eight tuition-free credits for writing an autobiography.

The Autobiography Program begins in the Fall semester with IAS 31170, the Seminar in Autobiography.  The course involves studying the basic types of life writing, completing some introductory life-writing exercises, reading and analyzing several memoirs, and, finally, creating a longer autobiographical story.  Students who are interested in submitting an autobiography for credit and who complete the course with a B or better are eligible to register for IAS 30100, Honors Research, in the Spring semester, to work on their autobiographical projects.  In the second semester, students work on several longer autobiographical pieces and begin to map their autobiographies, works that average between 50-150 pages when completed.  Students must receive a B- or above in the second semester to receive permission to write an autobiography for credit. 

After completing these two courses, students then have the summer and early fall to finish their autobiographies.  The deadline for submission is October 1.  Two anonymous readers will then evaluate the autobiography and award from 0-8 tuition-free credits.  These will appear as ungraded Life Experience Credits on your transcripts.

Students who are interested in the Autobiography Program should discuss their eligibility with their advisors.  Note that as the Autobiography Program requires strong writing skills, we recommend that students complete Writing for Interdisciplinary Studies I and II before taking either class, or The Essay/Advanced Composition.  Additionally, the Seminar in Autobiography has a pre-requisite of at least one literature or creative writing class.








to download LEP Program information.